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finding 27.3 : key-message-27-3
The majority of Pacific island communities are confined to a narrow band of land within a few feet of sea level. Sea level rise is now beginning to threaten critical assets such as ecosystems, cultural sites and practices, economics, housing and energy, transportation, and other forms of infrastructure (very likely, very high confidence). By 2100, increases of 1–4 feet in global sea level are very likely, with even higher levels than the global average in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands (very likely, high confidence). This would threaten the food and freshwater supply of Pacific island populations and jeopardize their continued sustainability and resilience (likely, high confidence). As sea level rise is projected to accelerate strongly after mid-century, adaptation strategies that are implemented sooner can better prepare communities and infrastructure for the most severe impacts.
This finding is from chapter 27 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.
Process for developing key messages:
To frame this chapter, the regional leads wanted to maximize inclusiveness and represent the key sectoral interests of communities and researchers. To select sectors and a full author team, the coordinating lead author and regional chapter lead author distributed an online Google survey from September to October 2016. The survey received 136 responses representing Hawaiʻi and all the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI) jurisdictions; respondents identified which of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) sectors they were most interested in learning about with respect to climate change in the Pacific Islands and suggested representative case studies.884675c9-3e31-483d-b6b9-fd53b99875ae The five top sectors were picked as the focus of the chapter, and a total of eight lead authors with expertise in those sectors were invited to join the regional team. To solicit additional participation from potential technical contributors across the region, two informational webinars spanning convenient time zones across the Pacific were held; 35 people joined in. The webinars outlined the NCA history and process, as well as past regional reports and ways to participate in this Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4).
A critical part of outlining the chapter and gathering literature published since the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3)dd5b893d-4462-4bb3-9205-67b532919566 was done by inviting technical experts in the key sectors to participate in a half-day workshop led by each of the lead authors. A larger workshop centered on adaptation best practices was convened with participants from all sectors, as well as regional decision-makers. In all, 75 participants, including some virtual attendees, took part in the sectoral workshops on March 6 and 13, 2017. Finally, to include public concerns and interests, two town hall discussion events on March 6 and April 19, 2017, were held in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, and Tumon, Guam, respectively. Approximately 100 participants attended the town halls. Throughout the refining of the Key Messages and narrative sections, authors met weekly both via conference calls and in person to discuss the chapter and carefully review evidence and findings. Technical contributors were given multiple opportunities to respond to and edit sections. The process was coordinated by the regional chapter lead and coordinating lead authors, as well as the Pacific Islands sustained assessment specialist.
Description of evidence base:
Multiple lines of research have shown that changes in melting in Greenland,ef6eb8d0-6301-4987-a2ff-9606e1f4177a the Antarctic,ae82c8a3-3033-4103-91e9-926a27d1fa18 and among alpine glaciers,5d34229c-b521-42f4-aad1-f2ffc600879d as well as the warming of the ocean,6bbe13d9-4992-456c-b97d-42947994b6be have occurred faster than expected. The rate of sea level rise is accelerating,d7ed19d6-e5ac-4b44-b686-0a8a16fc431b and the early signs of impact are widely documented.7717dd13-7f6b-4b7c-ab84-571d50f7b8da Relative to the year 2000, global mean sea level (GMSL) is very likely to rise 0.3–0.6 feet (9–18 cm) by 2030, 0.5–1.2 feet (15–38 cm) by 2050, and 1.0–4.3 feet (30–130 cm) by 2100 (very high confidence in lower bounds; medium confidence in upper bounds for 2030 and 2050; low confidence in upper bounds for 2100).c66bf5a9-a6d7-4043-ad99-db0ae6ae562c,3bae2310-7572-47e2-99a4-9e4276764934 Future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have little effect on projected average sea level rise in the first half of the century, but they significantly affect projections for the second half of the century. Emerging science regarding Antarctic ice sheet stability suggests that, for high emission scenarios, a GMSL rise exceeding 8 feet (2.4 m) by 2100 is physically possible, although the probability of such an extreme outcome cannot currently be assessed. Regardless of pathway, it is extremely likely that GMSL rise will continue beyond 2100 (high confidence).3bae2310-7572-47e2-99a4-9e4276764934
Changes in precipitation,c57f7893-035e-49d9-b31d-83856dab8624 Pacific sea level,6e320831-727b-482d-982a-45732be3790f climate variability,e5f02380-28e9-4238-994f-09a2efba32ae and the unsustainable practices of many human communities among Pacific islandsf22f00d3-1456-4fef-b286-a4af1494bb93 all converge to increase the vulnerability of coastal populationse16534d0-638a-4fdc-88fb-426611965c54 as climate change continues in the future.a9307aae-3eb6-41f2-9921-ba96fa8ac075 As sea level rises and average atmospheric temperature continues to increase, wave events1b9a155a-3d54-41ff-a844-1400bb326927 associated with changing weather patternsfc838fdf-81d0-488b-a2b5-0781d7bbc9ef constitute a growing mechanism for deliveringf4859f1b-a4d7-4e21-a05b-70204fd6df59 damaging saltwater into island aquifer systems,88dcd306-5ae7-48df-8411-658f9c5d97bc ecosystems,d055c0df-2c85-4ee1-a3c6-8e6c79e425bd and human infrastructure systems.c66bf5a9-a6d7-4043-ad99-db0ae6ae562c
In Hawaiʻi, studies by the Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission0244c888-89df-4a3c-a7f1-79af0a0a6f00 reveal that with 3.2 feet of sea level rise, over 25,800 acres of land in the state would be rendered unusable. Some of that land would erode into the ocean, some would become submerged by inches or feet of standing water, and some areas would be dry most of the year but repeatedly washed over by seasonal high waves. Statewide, about 34% of that potentially lost land is designated for urban use, 25% is designated for agricultural use, and 40% is designated for conservation. The loss of urban land is expected to increase pressure on the development of inland areas, including those designated as agricultural and conservation lands. Across the state, over 6,500 structures located near the shoreline would be compromised or lost with 3.2 feet of sea level rise. Some of these vulnerable structures include houses and apartment buildings, and their loss would result in over 20,000 displaced residents in need of new homes. The value of projected flooded structures, combined with the land value of the 25,800 acres projected to be flooded, amounts to over $19 billion across the state (in 2013 dollars; $19.6 billion in 2015 dollars). However, this figure does not encompass the full loss potential in the state, as monetary losses that would occur from the chronic flooding of roads, utilities, and other public infrastructure were not analyzed in this report and are expected to amount to as much as an order of magnitude greater than the potential economic losses from land and structures. For example, over 38 miles of major roads would be chronically flooded across the state with 3.2 feet of sea level rise. Utilities, such as water, wastewater, and electrical systems, often run parallel and underneath roadways, making lost road mileage a good indication of the extent of lost utilities. This chronic flooding of infrastructure would have significant impacts on local communities as well as reverberating effects around each island.
The loss of valuable natural and cultural resources across all islands would cost the state dearly, due to their intrinsic value. Beaches that provide for recreation, wildlife habitat, and cultural tradition would erode, from iconic sites such as Sunset Beach on O‘ahu to neighborhood beach access points rarely visited by anyone except local residents. Some beaches would be lost entirely if their landward migration is blocked by roads, structures, shoreline armoring, or geology. The flooding of the more than 2,000 on-site sewage disposal systems with 3.2 feet of sea level rise would result in diminished water quality in streams and at beaches and shoreline recreation areas. The loss of and harm to native species and entire ecosystems would have implications for Hawaiian cultural traditions and practices, which are closely tied to the natural environment. Further, nearly 550 cultural sites in the state would be flooded, and many Hawaiian Home Lands communities would be impacted by flooding. In some cases, inland migration or careful relocation of these natural and cultural resources is expected to be possible. In other cases, the resources are inextricably bound to place and would be permanently altered by flooding.0244c888-89df-4a3c-a7f1-79af0a0a6f00
Marra and Kruk (2017)a4512dba-212b-4139-b4bd-7dcdc5632f03 describe climate trends for the USAPI. Globally and locally, observations of GHG concentrations, surface air temperatures, sea level, sea surface temperature, and ocean acidification show rising trends at an increasing rate. Trends in measures of rainfall, surface winds, and tropical cyclones are not as readily apparent. Patterns of climate variability characterize these measures and tend to mask long-term trends. A lack of high-quality, long-term observational records, particularly with respect to in situ stations, contributes to difficulties in discerning trends. To maintain and enhance our ability to assess environmental change, attention needs to be given to robust and sustained monitoring.
There are consistent subregional changes in the number of days with high winds. The global frequency of tropical cyclones (TCs) appears to be showing a slow downward trend since the early 1970s. In the Pacific region, long-term TC trends in frequency and intensity are relatively flat, with the record punctuated by as many active as inactive years.a4512dba-212b-4139-b4bd-7dcdc5632f03
New information and remaining uncertainties:
Major uncertainties lie in understanding and projecting the future melting behavior of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. To date, new observations attest to melting occurring at higher than expected rates. If this continues to be the case, it is plausible for future sea level rise to exceed even worst-case scenarios. Secondary feedbacks to warming, such as changes in the global thermohaline circulation; shifts in major weather elements, such as the intertropical convergence zone and the polar jet stream; and unexpected modes of heat distribution across the hemispheres risk complex responses in the climate system that are not well understood. Pacific climate variability is a governing element that amplifies many aspects of climate change, such as drought, sea level, storminess, and ocean warming. A number of mechanisms through which climate change might alter Pacific variability have been proposed on the basis of physical modeling, but our understanding of the variability remains low, and confidence in projected changes is also low. For instance, in any given Pacific region, our understanding of future TC occurrence, intensity, and frequency is low. Future physical responses to climate change that have not yet been described are possible. These uncertainties greatly limit our ability to identify the chronology of changes to expect in the future.
Assessment of confidence based on evidence:
There is very high confidence that a continued rise in global temperature will lead to increases in the rate of sea level rise. There is less confidence in the projected amounts of sea level rise during this century, and there is low confidence in the upper bounds of sea level rise by the end of the century. Sea level rise will very likely lead to saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion, and wave flooding. It is very likely this will strain the sustainability of human infrastructure systems, limit freshwater resources, and challenge food availability. If the high-end projections of future sea level rise materialize, it is very likely this will threaten the very existence of Pacific island coastal communities.
- Hawaiʻi Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report (0244c888)
- Changes to extreme wave climates of islands within the western tropical Pacific throughout the 21st century under RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5, with implications for island vulnerability and sustainability (1b9a155a)
- chapter climate-science-special-report chapter 12 : Sea Level Rise (3bae2310)
- Industrial-era global ocean heat uptake doubles in recent decades (6bbe13d9)
- Future extreme sea level seesaws in the tropical Pacific (6e320831)
- Widespread inundation of Pacific islands triggered by distant-source wind-waves (7717dd13)
- Survey Report: User Input for Next Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (884675c9)
- Responses of atoll freshwater lenses to storm-surge overwash in the Northern Cook Islands (88dcd306)
- State of Environmental Conditions in Hawaii and the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands Under a Changing Climate: 2017 (a4512dba)
- Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership [Annex 1 and 2 of the 44th Forum Communiqué] (a9307aae)
- Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise (ae82c8a3)
- Climate Variability, Extremes and Change in the Western Tropical Pacific: New Science and Updated Country Reports 2014 (c57f7893)
- Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States (c66bf5a9)
- Climate change is projected to reduce carrying capacity and redistribute species richness in North Pacific pelagic marine ecosystems (d055c0df)
- Reassessment of 20th century global mean sea level rise (d7ed19d6)
- Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (dd5b893d)
- Coastal vulnerability across the Pacific dominated by El Niño/Southern Oscillation (e16534d0)
- Increasing frequency of extreme El Niño events due to greenhouse warming (e5f02380)
- The darkening of the Greenland ice sheet: Trends, drivers, and projections (1981–2100) (ef6eb8d0)
- The Coral Reef of South Moloka`i, Hawai`i; Portrait of a Sediment-Threatened Fringing Reef (f22f00d3)
- Doubling of coastal flooding frequency within decades due to sea-level rise (f4859f1b)
- More extreme swings of the South Pacific convergence zone due to greenhouse warming (fc838fdf)
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